I don't know when I really started loving advent, but I have had this infatuation for a long time. Maybe it was those four candles on the advent wreath in church. Who doesn't like lighting candles? Maybe it was all of the verses of O Come O Come Emmanuel. Maybe it was the Jesse tree. We never had one, but I had heard of them, and thought they were fascinating.
Whatever it was, it got stronger when I was in college, and I got more pious. I loved the idea of observing Advent. I loved the Incarnation. You can't just rush headlong into the Incarnation. You need time. I liked the idea of keeping Christmas at bay, simmering for 24 days or so, until it was ready, really ready.
Despite my love for Advent, though, I have not really been that successful at keeping it. Although we have an advent wreath, I have not necessarily used it regularly. I am spectacularly undisciplined, although I have high ideals, and therefore (having high ideals), I have had many many different kinds of advent disciplines and devotionals. I have had many devotionals which I have mostly left unfinished or become bored with. After awhile, I can't read the daily snippets any more.
Still, people ask me what I recommend. Here is what I'll say:
These days my only go-to advent devotional (if you can call it that) is Christmastide, Phyllis Tickle's book of prayers for the Daily Hours. I think I like it because it doesn't have that daily snippet that most devotional books do. It just has scripture readings and prayers for different hours of the day. I am not any more disciplined at doing all of the prayers at all of the hours, but I might hit one or two every day.
One year I used a book of daily essays called Watch for the Light. I would recommend that one. The essays are all by different people, with very different pieties and theological backgrounds. Baptists, Catholics, Mennonites, writers from this century and the 4th century all have a voice.
I find Sybil MacBeth's new book The Season of the Nativity a little too basic in some ways, but very creative in other ways. I am all for coloring as an Advent discipline.
I think Advent was made for art, so I also recommend Jan Richardson's book Night Visions.
I recommend reading children's books in Advent. Right now, the one I am in love with is called The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree, by Gloria Houston, and illustrated by Barbara Cooney. It is set in Appalachia in 1918. That is all I am going to say about it.
Other than that, here's what I am going to do during Advent this year:
1. I am going to light candles. I might be organized enough to get the wreath out, or I might not, but I will light candles. I will try to light candles in different colors, at different times, and at different places.
2. I will take walks in the dark with my dog. I will think about the dark, and be glad that I have my dog with me. I will look at the dark, I will notice it. I will bundle up against the cold.
3. I will be silent, sometimes. When I am silent, I will try to remember that the silence is a space for someone else's wisdom, someone else's voice. I will try to learn from people who are not me.
4. I will speak, sometimes. I will try to say things that are hard. I will remember that the things I say can be short, only a few words. It is advent, after all.
5. I will read Luke chapter 1, and Jesus' genealogy in Matthew 1. Those will be my devotional readings this year.
I might get an advent calendar. I will let you know.